I love the way that gardeners share. In return for a slight show of enthusiasm, they’ll give you cuttings, seeds and spare plants. I’m quick to point out that if I give you something, this is no altruism on my part. If my original dies, I’ll come panting ’round to your door, to beg a bit back again. By heaven, we’re free with advice, some welcome, some not. I’ve learned most from my mistakes and see no reason why I should leave you to kill a treasure, when I’ve already done it for you.
Lilium, Achillea & Argyranthemum
I’ve acquired a great deal of knowledge from other practitioners of this art. In addition to pruning, Botanical Barbara taught me the virtues of elegance and restraint, when my designs were all fizz, bang and crash. Over the years, my use of colour has calmed down somewhat, while her beautiful tasteful garden has elements of sophisticated explosion. It was she who showed me that floral arrangements need not be large enough to fill the foyer of the Savoy. Small collections of perfectly chosen blooms are striking in diminutive containers. Now she and I vie at charity shops and the like, for minuscule jugs and petite pots. If I find a modest prize of antique crystal for the cost of a pound or two, I have to keep my triumph from Attila. He can’t see that my pursuit of such vessels is as exciting as his hunt for the pair of perfect trainers, takes up less space and is much more useful.
Rose, Knautia & Cotinus
I have tried to blend shades in my plantings, so that oranges and pinks don’t shout insults at each other from being too closely placed. I have a preponderance of favourite tints and strive for different textures, to save the borders from blurring into blocks. This practice has the virtue of giving me lots of cut flowers ready to hand, without having to wade into the beds and risk disturbing the snails. Asparagus fronds and Cotinus (smoke bush) leaves are good for background foliage. Hypericum (St. John’s wort) flowers are nondescript but the berries make a terrific statement. I don’t use poppies, or anything else with a notably short shelf life; days are too fleeting to boil or burn the ends of the stalks, which is the received wisdom. The more fragile the appearance of the blossom, the less time that it will last on your dining table. Conversely, if you don’t empty the garden each time, you can afford to make a fresh collection more often.
This has been a wonderful year for roses. Whether pruned properly or not, mine have been most generous, weighed down with heavy heads of velvet blossom and laden with fragrance. One bloom may be snitched from the bush, without denuding the display. This may be used as the centrepiece of an assembly for brightening any room. If family fail to spot the skill, time and artistry you have expended to cheer up their dull lives, keep pointing out the show and bigging up the thorn scratches until they pay attention. If necessary, purchase arms full of farm shop bouquets and keep buying bigger and more expensive vases, until they notice. Only use bankruptcy as a last resort.